Tag: Horror

Annihilation review

Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Published: February 2014


Well isn’t this a surprise, I’m reviewing a book this time. Specifically, the first novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I first heard about this book when I saw the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation from Alex Garland. I liked what I saw and figured I would read the source material before I see the movie. I didn’t even know it was the first of a trilogy. I started reading it about two days before writing this review, and managed to finish it hours earlier today. It has been a long time since I’ve read something this engaging and well written.

Annihilation is just like a good Lovecraft story, if Lovecraft had managed to write a full book instead of just short stories. Its story is about an all female team consisting of a psychologist, surveyor, anthropologist, and our protagonist a biologist as they venture out into Area-X, an area of land which seems to defy the very laws of science. As the team investigates, things quickly fall apart, but that’s all I’ll say about the story without going into spoiler territory.

Like I said earlier, this has all the trappings of a good cosmic horror story written by H.P. Lovecraft. It involves a group of people dealing with an entity that their minds cannot fully make sense of, no matter what technology they have or investigative tools they use. Area-X is one of the most fascinating, realized locations I’ve witnessed in years. It’s strange, disturbing, and defies any attempts to make sense of it. It is as if it exists in a plane of reality outside of the rest of the Earth. The laws of nature as we know them are not followed in Area-X, with one of the books most memorable scenes being one where our protagonist witnesses some dolphins with a very peculiar trait their species should not have, and numerous ones that takes place in a “tower” that goes underground. Everything in Area-X simply should not be.

On the character side Annihilation doesn’t excel but it works. None of the characters are given names, not even our protagonist, and she’s the only one we’re ever given any insight into. She has a rather unconventional, and at times unsympathetic personality. She’s antisocial, wrapped up in her work, and just seems not to care about the people around her. The novel is entirely from a first person perspective, so we learn about her, and only her. The other characters’ pasts are unexplored. We also only have the protagonist’s knowledge of the area and its wildlife. This is a good way of adding to the fear of the unknown the book has. By the end, the protagonist doesn’t have all the answers, and neither do we.

Annihilation’s single greatest attribute is easily its atmosphere, which is thanks to VanderMeer’s excellent writing. He manages to bring to life the vast loneliness the protagonist feels during the plot, the sadness and isolation given off from the remnants of humanity found in Area-X, and the surrealism of its ecology. While it builds atmosphere, the novel still manages to have an excellent pace to it. Nothing feels padded on or unnecessary, and when I was finished I felt breathless and wanting more.

For all the good things I have to say, Annihilation is not for everybody. While it’s only 195 pages in total and I managed to read through it fairly quickly, it can be a tad confusing at times and the characters aren’t really the focus of the story. You also are left with unanswered questions by the end, which will no doubt leave at least one person feeling cheated. I personally did not mind this because the protagonist finished her own personal journey and since the story is framed as her recounting her experiences, it immerses us into her mindset and maintains the book’s Lovecraftian horror traits.

Annihilation is a great read and has left me feeling even more excited for Alex Garland’s film adaptation. I’m nervous and excited to see if he can make a movie out of such a surreal novel, but if he has to take some liberties to make it happen, then let him do so. It works both as a standalone work, and as the first of a trilogy. I’m eager to read the other two books of the series as soon as I can.

Score: 8/10


The Neon Demon review

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Mary Law, Nicolas Winding Refn, Polly Stenham

Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Christina Hendricks, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote, Keanu Reeves

Released: June 24, 2016


The Neon Demon is a 2016 film from Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive. The story is about a young, innocent, aspiring model named Jessie, played by Elle Fanning, who becomes entangled in the narcissistic nature of the modeling industry in Los Angeles. Her youth and innocence is attractive to the executives and photographers of the industry, but also gets her unwanted attraction from rivals and predatory men. Sounds simple yes? Well this movie is anything but simple.

The Neon Demon is basically extremely stylish, visually amazing, artsy trash, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The movie is carried pretty much entirely by the strength of Refn’s filmmaking. Beautiful cinematography that makes great usage of contrasting colors like blue and purple, and artistic direction gives this film a unique style and flavor that immediately sets it apart. This is not a case of style over substance, but rather the style being the substance. I can’t remember ever seeing a film that looks like this, and it’s easily one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in recent memory.

The Neon Demon’s soundtrack is equally as mesmerizing and beautiful as its visuals. Its synth soundtrack gives the film a hypnotic, edgy atmosphere and is also one of the best I’ve heard in recent memory. The most identifiable track is “The Demon Dance” by Julian Winding, which is perfect for listening to while driving on the highway or in the city on a rainy night.

Okay enough putting it off, now for the plot, because pretty visuals and music can only help a movie so much. The plot and characters need to come first. It’s tricky to talk about them because the plot on the surface seems simple enough, but the way it’s told makes it anything but. It especially goes into some pretty weird and horrifying territory around the climax of the film, which even had me looking at the screen slack jawed in disbelief and disgust. A big negative for some will probably be the characters, because none of them are likable or sympathetic in the least. They’re either narcissists, perverts, ineffectual, or total sociopaths. The only characters who could be remotely considered sympathetic are either revealed to be vapid, monstrous, or barely in the film, and once things get too weird for them they decides to get out of dodge. Probably the best decision they have ever made. It keeps from getting unbearable by having an extremely twisted sense of humor. The movie knows how ridiculous it really is so it doesn’t go into faux-artsy pretentiousness.

Everyone does a good job with the characters they’re portraying, but special attention should be given to Keanu Reeves as the creepy landlord. He just oozes scumbag in every scene he’s in, and has a particularly terrifying scene late into the movie.

While it’s not a masterpiece or as good as Drive, The Neon Demon is a unique and memorable film. The plot and characters may leave much to be desired, but its direction, style, and atmosphere elevate it. If you have a taste for unconventional movies, I’d definitely recommend it, but be warned of what you are jumping into.

Score: 7/10

Devilman: Crybaby review

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Writer: Ichiro Okouchi

Studio: Science SARU

Episodes: 10

Aired: January 5, 2018


This was a pleasant surprise. I mean it was extremely violent and depressing so I shouldn’t really call it pleasant, but what would normally just be entertaining schlock turned out to be well written and emotionally engaging. See Netflix? You can make good anime related content as long as it’s you know, still an anime.

Devilman: Crybaby is the latest anime adaptation of Go Nagai’s Devilman manga from the 1970s. This series has had plenty of adaptations before, including a cheesy children’s show, two ultra-violent OVAs, and some sequels and spinoffs. I have no interest in the original manga because of its dated artstyle and other similar series like Berserk and Parasyte doing more with similar concepts originally found in Devilman. As for the other adaptations, they don’t adapt the story in full so I don’t see the point in watching them. What immediately grabbed my interest about Crybaby was that it had a genuinely unique visual style and it was on Netflix, so binge watching it would be easy. Still, I had no real expectations for it and went in mostly blind save for knowing the premise.
The premise is that Akira Fudou, a shy teenager is convinced by his childhood friend Ryou Asuka that demons exist in this world, and decides to help him by going to a sexually charged dance party known as a “Sabbath”. There, demons appear, and Akira ends up getting possessed by a demon named Amon. Akira manages to maintain his human consciousness and soul, but becomes much more assertive, stronger, and edgy, and can transform into Amon. Akira decides to become “Devilman” in order to stop demons from killing humans, while trying to balance this with highschool and family life. So it’s like Spider-Man but with sex and gore. If you can’t handle that, don’t even bother watching the first episode.

While the premise of Devilman: Crybaby can lead one to write it off as just brainless violence, that’s being unfair to it. Crybaby manages to use its insane premise to explore some genuinely interesting questions and themes about bigotry, how fear can lead to humanity doing truly awful things, and how people can be manipulated by those in power to rallying against a boogeyman. The world evolves as the plot progresses on, because realistically a secret like this would never be able to remain one forever, and even the early episodes have subplot where Ryou and Akira have to deal with a reporter who almost exposes their secret. Crybaby moves at a pretty quick pace, leaving you immediately switching to the next episode after the previous one has ended. This means the show doesn’t outstay its welcome, but some of the episodes do feel rushed and lacking in the character development department. While most of the characters aren’t neglected, there are some that we could have learned more about, but didn’t.

Crybaby stands apart from the crowd thanks to its unique style and direction. Instead of clumsily jamming 2D and CGI animation together, Crybaby manages to expertly combine them, to the point that you’ll barely even notice when they switch because of how seamless it is. The animation and artstyle work well together, because they were done in the interest of favoring fluid movement and unique visuals over detailed, realistic environments. Some might say this detracts from the extreme gore and sexual content, but I’d argue it only enhances it. When the action finally happens it is a treat for the eyes, and watching Devilman kill his opponents in the most gruesome ways imaginable. However, it can get a bit repetitive since it feels like he has no chance of losing, and the fights always end with him either punching or ripping apart the demons. Now luckily the anime fixes this by having him lose just when the team probably guessed that you were getting sick of him always winning. The downside to the animation is when the characters aren’t in action, it comes off as choppy and stilted at best, which takes you out of the experience.

English and Japanese voice actors are all pretty good, but I’d say go with the Japanese voices with English subtitles. Some of the Japanese voices have more edge to them, which fits the tone of the anime and some of the characters’ personalities, especially Akira post-possession. It’s easy to switch between the two mid episode, so decide for yourself which is better.

Crybaby’s music, while not original, is diverse and fitting for the setting and tone. Featuring musical styles from techno to ones that will make you start to bawl your eyes out. The opening is also catchy and memorable as hell.

The age of the source material can sometimes show its age while watching the anime. Now they made the smart choice of updating the setting to modern times, and even take advantage of this by having social media and the internet play roles within the plot, it does not entirely alleviate the problem. The original Devilman manga was a major influence on revered classics such as Evangelion and Berserk, which overall did improve on the original’s concepts. Without spoiling anything, the final minutes of the anime were a near direct imitation of The End of Evangelion’s, and the reveal of the villain gave me Berserk flashbacks. That may not be entirely its fault due to just trying to remain faithful to the source, but it would have been better to make changes that give the ending a less derivative feeling. On the other hand I love how unapologetically bleak and nihilistic the ending is.

Devilman: Crybaby is really, really good. While perhaps having too much of a derivative feeling, quick pace, and the animation style and direction not being for everyone, it is still a seinen horror anime that actually has heart and brains, like Parasyte. Unless you have a short stomach for some truly disturbing, dark material, there’s no reason not to give this one a watch. Show Netflix that there’s a demand for series like this.

Score: 8/10

Vampire Hunter D review

Director: Toyoo Ashida

Writers: Yasushi Hirano

Studio: Ashi Productions

Released: December 21, 1985

vampire hunter d.jpg

This will be my first review where I will attempt to give a numerical score based on a number out of ten. I don’t know if I’ll stick with this system but I think it’s worth a try.

There are timeless classics, and then there are works that might have been good around the time they originally came out, but haven’t aged well overall. Vampire Hunter D is the latter.

Vampire Hunter D is an anime movie adaptation of the first novel of a long-running, popular series of post-apocalyptic/fantasy/horror novels from Japan. I haven’t read any of the books so I can’t speak for its faithfulness to its source material, but I’ve read that it is a faithful adaptation for what that’s worth if you’re a fan of the source material.
It’s a real shame that I don’t particularly care for Vampire Hunter D, because there are elements to it that are well executed. It manages to deliver a pretty heavy atmosphere, the soundtrack is decent, the unusual setting is interesting, and the designs of the monsters are creative and genuinely disturbing in appearance. The movie has a lot of potential to be something special, but alas, it doesn’t manage to reach even half of it.

The story is set thousands of years after a series of nuclear wars, the Earth has become a world filled with mutants, monsters, vampires, and other dangerous creatures. A vampire hunter only named “D” is given a contract by a young woman to kill an ancient, powerful vampire that takes young girls from a small town to his castle to be his brides every 50 years. There are a couple of side characters and villains, but none of them are interesting or well developed. Our main character D comes off less like a character and more of a plot device at times with how powerful and underdeveloped he is. As the movie goes along, it will become clear to you that nothing is really a threat to D. Oh, he might have difficulties, but they feel artificial and move along so quickly you’ll barely notice, save for one instance where you think for a moment he might actually be dead (he’s taking a long nap really). He reminded me a lot of Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series in terms of demeanor and occupation: A monster hunter feared by most of the populace, loved by a few, and women will want to sleep with him just after getting to know him. The pacing to the plot is also a mess, moving too fast with some scenes feeling barely connected together, yet with some scenes just dragging on. There’s an attempt at a one sided love on the young woman who hires D that feels totally artificial thanks to the bad pacing. Lastly, while the world the movie is set in is interesting from a concept point of view, the world presented on screen feels very patched together. There’s some advanced technology, but the small town looks medieval in architecture and clothes worn by the townspeople, like a steampunk setting. It’s a unique idea, but the world comes across as artificial and not lived in at all.

The animation for the movie is the most poorly aged aspect to it. The stiff, recycled animation makes the action scenes on a technical level very weak and lacking in tension, and because the characters are so poorly developed there’s no emotional investment to the fights. We know D will win, it’s just a matter of when. The most entertaining aspect to the fights is the blood and gore, which I’ll admit can still be entertaining today. Voice acting isn’t exactly good either. Now after doing some research I found out that the English voice acting I heard was in fact a newer dubbing done by Sentai Filmworks after they got the distribution rights to the film in 2015, not the original 1992 dub from Steamline Pictures. Neither is what I’d call good, but the newer dub is better than the old one. At least the new one has some cheesy camp to it, the old one is just stilted and dull. I did listen to a bit of the Japanese voice acting and it sounded okay by today’s standards.

I’m sure there are some people with nostalgia for this movie, and it is an interesting work from a historical perspective with some redeeming value to be found, but that can’t redeem its flaws. Vampire Hunter D is just an average movie as a whole that isn’t really worth your time. If you want to see some violent, monster killing action that bad, go watch Netflix’s first season of Castlevania. Maybe the sequel will be better and it did get me interested in the original novels, so it deserves some credit.

Score: 5/10

Alien Series review

So for this October I decided to watch every single movie in the Alien franchise. What began as a sci-fi horror movie in 1979 directed by Ridley Scott has now become a massive franchise with sequels, prequels, video games, crossovers across various media, and comic books. I did not watch the Alien vs Predator movies because they are just non-canon fanservice for fans of both properties and I have not seen the Predator movies anyway.

alien-movie-posterAliens-1986-Posteralien-3-poster-2alien resurrectionPrometheus2alien_covenant_new_movie_poster

It’s been decades since it was first released in theaters and is still one of the best horror films ever made. The story and characters are nothing special but they’re well carried by the actors’ performances and the plot’s pacing. A crew of a commercial spaceship called the Nostromo discover a derelict alien spaceship that ends up housing a dangerous threat unlike anything ever seen. It looks better than most movies in general today thanks to excellent set design, practical effects, and Ridley Scott’s superb direction and cinematography. The eponymous Alien (Xenomorph) is still one of the most menacing horror antagonists ever because of its design (RIP H.R. Giger), and of how there is no complex explanation or backstory for its actions. It’s a predator and the crew is the prey, simple as that. Like the best horror movies, it relies on subtlety and nail-biting tension rather than jump scares and gore. A sci-fi slasher movie where the slasher is a Lovecraftian-esque monster with origins unknown to us. The only negative that drags it down is the characters not being memorable outside of our main lead Ellen Ripley, but other than that it’s still a great movie.

This movie is awesome. The sequel that surpassed the original and then some. Ripley wakes up after over fifty years of hyper sleep to discover her daughter Amanda has passed away years ago from cancer, and no one believes her story about how her crew was killed. A Xenomorph outbreak on the colony Hadley’s Hope causes her to team up with the Colonial Marines to take on her old enemy. Directed by James Cameron instead of Ridley Scott, Cameron wisely decided to take the film in an action oriented direction instead of trying to one up the original, thus creating one of the best sci-fi action movies of all time. The universe set up in the original is expanded upon more, the characters are much more memorable, Ellen Ripley cements her status as one of the best female action heroes in history, and it has the best action scenes ever. Like the first movie the story itself is nothing really special, but the characters are vastly better in this one and with Ripley becoming a surrogate mother to the child character Newt in this movie, it’s much more emotionally engaging since it’s genuinely sad to see characters get brutally killed, and extremely happy to see others make it out alive. Hicks, Newt, Hudson, Vasquez, Bishop and then some all make up the best set of characters the series has ever seen. It also has messages about the arrogance of a technologically superior force fighting a seemingly weaker enemy, which was inspired by the U.S.’s bungling of the Vietnam War, so it’s a much smarter movie than it appears to be at first glance. The lines are iconic (“Game over man! Game over!” “Get away from her you bitch!”), the special effects still look great today, it still manages to keep the nail biting tension the original movie had, and the ending has one of the best final battles in action movies ever with the Xenomorph Queen and it wraps up Ripley’s character arc perfectly. You can make other movies in the series but here is where Ripley’s character should’ve been left. Easily now in my favorite movies list, one of the best sequels ever, and the best movie in the franchise. There’s a small but vocal minority of people who hate this movie for moving away from first movie’s horror. Well be careful what you wish for because you get a new Alien movie with an emphasis on horror in the next one…

Alien 3
This is the exact opposite of Aliens. It’s one of the worst sequels ever made because instead of being exciting it’s boring, it’s a slog to get through, the characters are mostly dull and unlikable, has an bad ending and pisses on Ripley’s character. Remember Hicks and Newt? They get killed in the beginning of Alien 3, retroactively ruining the completely wonderful ending of the previous movie! I’m not against movies set after Aliens, but they should have little to do with Ellen Ripley. There are other stories you can tell, as shown with the now non-canon Dark Horse Alien comics and Alien: Isolation video game. There can be a movie about Newt grown up kicking Xenomorph ass, or another movie about the Colonial Marines, but leave Ripley alone. This movie had a notoriously troubled production and was David Fincher’s directorial debut, but not even he can salvage this boring turd. It’s the kind of horror movie that relies on shock value deaths and gore to scare its audience, which gets boring after it happens once or twice. The special effects aren’t even that good thanks to some poorly used and aged CGI, and that’s not even getting into the new prison setting being visually uninteresting with only the colors being grey and yellowish brown. Lastly, Ripley goes from being a badass who kicked Xeno ass to being terrified of the Xenomorph again, then they kill her off at the end of the movie via heroic sacrifice to end the threat once and for all. Some people say the Assembly Cut is a genuinely good movie. It’s not, so don’t watch it for your own sake.

Alien: Resurrection
Accomplishes the impressive goal of being even worse than the third movie. It takes place 200 years after Alien 3 and a new company studying the Xenomorphs clones Ripley. Yep, they didn’t even have the guts to stick with 3’s ending of her character. Even the opening credits are inferior to 3’s, and the worst of the entire series! This is the Batman and Robin of the Alien movies, with terrible acting, special effects, and a campy tone that is disrespectful to its own series. The only good things I can say about it is that its visual style is more interesting than 3’s and Ron Perlman is a blast in it, but everything else is worse. The story I hear is Joss Whedon wrote this script to try to get fired from his job, but studio executives actually took it seriously. If that’s true, then every stereotype of movie executives is pretty much justified. Another Xenomorph outbreak occurs because of corporate incompetence, but this time it’s really inexcusable. The movie takes place 200 years after Alien 3, so they should know the Xenos have acid blood, but their cages aren’t even acid proof! It’s like they wanted an accident to happen! It’s constantly pulling stuff out of its ass as the plot keeps moving that make no sense. Fuck this movie.

This is a prequel to the original movies with Ridley Scott back at the director’s helm. I don’t find it to be the masterpiece it tried to be or the ultimate betrayal of the other movies fans found it to be (Did they forget the last two movies exist?). I’m glad they finally moved on from Ripley’s character so as not to butcher it any further, so that was an automatic plus in my book. I think it has some interesting ideas but the execution left a lot to be desired. It wants to explore the origins of the Xenomorphs and of humanity in general, with an advanced race of aliens called the “Engineers” being the overall antagonists. The problem with this is that it feels torn between being a prequel and wanting to be its own movie, so none of the ideas it wants to explore feel fleshed out. Ridley Scott is still a great visual director that very few can match, and that combined with the much better CGI and special effects for this movie make it utterly beautiful at times. Everything else though, there’s a lot left to be desired. The biggest problems by far are the characters and their stupidity. These people are the dumbest group of researchers that have ever lived. The plot wouldn’t move if it weren’t for their idiotic mistakes, like a biologist approaching a strange alien creature or one of the crew members not telling the others he noticed a parasite in his eye while looking at his face in the mirror. Also, the technology is more advanced despite being a prequel to the other movies, but that’s kind of a nitpick that can be explained by the crew having a higher budget compared to the crew of the first movie who were basically truckers in space. Michael Fassbender’s android character David is pretty interesting, however he’s the only one I liked. Not even the main character Shaw was memorable. I wouldn’t call it good, but exploring the origins of the Xenomorphs with other characters is an interesting premise that a sequel could have built upon. Key phrase being could have.

Alien: Covenant
Whatever potential the ideas from Prometheus had to be fleshed out has gone unfulfilled. It has the same problems as Prometheus but with some new ones too. The characters are uninteresting and make dumb decisions but even more so. David returns from Prometheus and is turned into some cartoonish super villain who created the Xenomorphs just because he could, killed Shaw off screen, and committed genocide on the Engineers between the two movies. The Xenomorphs and facehuggers make their return to pacify the fans who were disappointed that Prometheus had very little to do overall with the actual origins of the Xenomorphs. The best aspect is the good direction from Ridley Scott again, but it’s a very hollow movie overall and at this point I have no doubt he barely cares. The script went through some pretty heavy rewrites, and all the ideas it had before sound way more interesting than the glorified half sequel to Prometheus, half remake of Alien we got.

This is how I rank the Alien movies from best to worst:
1. Aliens
2. Alien
3. Prometheus
4. Alien: Covenant
5. Alien 3
6. Alien: Resurrection
The first two movies are amazing while the rest aren’t worth watching. Prometheus has its moments but its issues drag it down too much. After the mess that was Covenant, I have no interest in seeing any other movie made in this franchise. They should have called it quits after Aliens, at least in regards to Ellen Ripley’s story. Just watch the first two, then play the video game Alien: Isolation. It’s about Amanda Ripley, Ellen’s biological daughter who died in between the first two movies as she tries to discover the truth of her mother’s disappearance. It’s a pretty good game that actually tells a much better story than the other movies of the series.

Resident Evil REmake review

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Game played on: PS4

Released: April 30, 2002, January 20, 2015 (HD Remaster)resident-evil-remake-cover-art-gamecube-box

I don’t have any experience playing the Resident Evil games, not even the wildly acclaimed Resident Evil 4. Every time I saw the trailers and gameplay for the old and new ones, I had no interest. It didn’t look scary next to say, Silent Hill. I only decided to give the series a chance once I came to terms with the two series’ differing priorities. Silent Hill is going for a subtle, Japanese horror atmosphere, while Resident Evil, despite also being made by a Japanese company, is going for more of a B-movie, George Romero style of horror. You can prefer one over the other, but comparing the two in terms of which is better horror is unfair.

Resident Evil, a.k.a. Resident Evil REmake to the fans is a remake (obviously) of the original Resident Evil from the PS1 era to the GameCube. It was re-released over a decade later to this current generation of consoles and to PC as an HD remaster. A major benefit that this version has is the choice between the old school tank control scheme and a modern one. Now while I can adapt to tank controls, if I have a choice between them and more refined ones, I’ll choose the latter. But even if it didn’t have its new features, I would still love this game because it is one of the most gracefully aged games ever made.

Resident Evil REmake follows the original’s plot near beat for beat. The elite S.T.A.R.S. unit of the Raccoon City Police Department is called in to investigate a series of grisly murders up in the woods. After contact with one team is lost, another team is sent in to find them. They get chased into the spooky Spencer Mansion by a pack of murderous zombie dogs, the mansion is full of zombies, and the activities of the evil mega corporation Umbrella are slowly discovered through the player’s exploration of the mansion and its surrounding area by solving elaborate puzzles, evading death traps, and finding keys to unlock the mansion’s doors. If you’re looking for a well written story with complex characters, go elsewhere. It’s a cheesy, B-movie plot with corny dialogue (and voice acting to match) that you have to accept for what it is. That doesn’t mean the plot is bad, in fact I’d argue it’s good within its genre. There are good twists and the remake adds a new subplot that changes how the story plays out a bit, the characters are likable, and the pacing never goes too slow that you’re begging it to pick up or too fast that you don’t have time to breathe.

You are given the option before you start the game to play as one of two characters: Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. Jill has more inventory space for items but can’t take a lot of damage, while Chris doesn’t have as much room in his inventory as Jill but can take more damage than Jill before dying. The story plays out in different ways for the characters as well. Jill’s campaign will have fan favorite Barry Burton as the main side character while Chris will have Rebecca Chambers, a medic from another team that had come earlier that can heal Chris without costing any items. I like both campaigns but I think Jill’s is the better of the two. Barry comes to her aid multiple times throughout the story, has an interesting character arc about his family, and will even save Jill’s life if you get poisoned in the first boss encounter of the game. Her campaign is also just easier for first time players and has more mystery in it on the question of who’s a traitor (even though since the original game is over two decades old I knew and so will you). Play her first, then play as Chris to get the most enjoyment since Chris will have to do some things differently from Jill over the course of the game. Depending on some choices in the game, your ending will play out differently with either a happy, bittersweet, or depressing resolution to the story.

Spencer Mansion is one of the best designed and realized settings I’ve seen in gaming. It is the setting along with Shadow Moses from the first Metal Gear Solid of how to do backtracking right.  The mansion is a character in its own right, with a history and its inhabitants history told in the letters and documents you’ll find throughout the game. The atmosphere is claustrophobic with the game’s changing camera angles that never reveal a comfortable amount of what’s next to, behind, or in front of the player, making every turn you make a dangerous one. Going through the same area never feels tedious, since the game is always throwing surprises along the way. Enemies that weren’t in a hallway before will be there later, forcing you to change your approach. Killing zombies is not always the best option, as ammo is scarce and even if you do kill them, unless you shoot the brain or burn the bodies, they will come back later even stronger and faster to make your playthrough even harder. They’re not the only enemy to worry about either, because if they don’t kill you, the mutated animals of Spencer Mansion will. Every decision you make is one that will affect you in the long and short term.

I died a lot playing this, and you can’t just die and go back to the nearest checkpoint, because there aren’t any. The game’s save system has you use type writers to save your progress at safe rooms where you can also story your items. However, to use them, you have to use ink ribbons that are of limited supply and take up inventory space, making the choice between saving your game but risking losing an opportunity to do so later, or not using your ink ribbons to save them for a later time a tough choice. If you don’t choose carefully, you’ll really put yourself in a dangerous spot like I did at one point. The mansion won’t be the only place you’ll explore, with other areas including hidden laboratories and a cabin. They all feel connected, part of a greater whole, and you’ll feel like a genuine badass as you play the game and become more familiar with the environment and the enemies’ behavior. You, and your character go from scared survivor to conquering action hero.

REmake’s sound design and music is another standout. The footsteps on the creaking stars, the thunder from outside, the moans of the undead all sound like they’re real and in your room. While I won’t rank the soundtrack as one of my favorites, it’s a good soundtrack that adds to the game’s spooky atmosphere, though I do think the game’s tensest moments during gameplay are when it has no music playing at all. Just you and a zombie slowly coming your way.

The negative aspects of this game I can name mostly have to do with when it came out. The lip synching and non game engine cutscenes haven’t aged well and the voice acting is okay if I’m being generous. It’s miles above the original’s at least and it fits with the game’s campy style. I can’t think of anything else to complain about technically wise; the game’s framerate is smooth, the load times are mercifully short, and the pre-rendered backgrounds and character models still holdup very well today. I only had one glitch that lasted for 2 seconds involving Chris disappearing in his campaign and it didn’t have any effect on my playthrough.

Resident Evil’s remake is outstanding and leagues above many games today, not just survival horror ones. People might scoff at the dumb plot, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and the gameplay, level design, and atmosphere are a cut above many horror games today. It should be played at least once by gamers and is worthy of being hailed as a classic. I recommend it highly and since it’s the scariest month of the year right now it makes for a good Halloween treat.

Berserk movie trilogy retrospective part 3: Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III: The Advent

Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka

Writer: Ichiro Okouchi

Studio: Studio 4°C

Release date: February 1, 2013


Warning: major spoilers for Berserk and discussion of graphic material

Now this is how you end a trilogy. It’s very rare that the third movie in a trilogy manages to be the best one, but what do you know, they managed to pull it off. After a disappointing start and an improved but still flawed second movie, they managed to end on a high note, albeit still with some flaws. Whatever you may say of the previous movies, you’d be hard press to call this final installment bad either as a movie or adaptation. Honestly I would argue this movie is worth watching the other two movies for, just so you aren’t lost and can have more emotional investment in the story and characters. This is what the previous films have been building up to. Griffith’s destiny is finally realized, the Hawks are permanently lost, and Guts swears revenge on Griffith for his abominable betrayal.

This is the movie the other ones have been building up to. Longtime fans were dreading it from the beginning, and new fans likely had no idea what was coming. Here is the plot and major, major spoilers. You ready?

Guts and the Band of the Hawk reunite after a year, and he and Casca end up fully expressing the growing feelings that had been building between them since the last movie. After making love, Guts is warned by an undead rider known as Skull Knight of a coming disaster that he will not be able to escape, but Guts is unable to understand what he means. Afterword, the Hawks go on a rescue operation to save Griffith from imprisonment, but arrive far too late. Griffith is broken in mind and body. His tendons are severed, his tongue has been cut out, and his face has been horrifically disfigured. He will never become the kind he has dreamed of being since he was a child. Once they escape, and the gravity of the situation becomes acknowledged by everyone, Casca says she’ll stay behind with Griffith while Guts leaves to become Griffith’s equal. Unknown to them, Griffith hears all of this, and distraught that the man he cares so much for is leaving him again, he breaks completely. He takes a carriage and runs away, but doesn’t get far before being thrown off and crippled further. He tries to commit suicide, but can’t even do that. Griffith completely sinks into despair, but as if destined by fate, finds his Behelit. When the Behelit comes into contact with his blood, it turns into a crying face, and he, Guts, Casca, and the other Hawks are teleported to a hellish dimension. Here, four demonic entities known as the Godhand reveal that this is an event called “The Eclipse” and this is Griffith’s true destiny, that he is destined to sacrifice his friend and comrades and be reborn as their fifth member. Griffith, rationalizing that he has come too far to give up, and if he doesn’t he will become the very sort of desperate survivor that he despises. After mulling it over for a brief period, he looks at Guts, admits to himself that he really did see him as more than just a soldier, and sacrifices them. The Hawks, save for Guts and Casca die and are devoured by demons in a horrific bloodbath. When only Guts and Casca remain, Griffith emerges from his cocoon as the new member of the Godhand named Femto. Femto descends to Guts’ level, orders some demons to bring Casca to him, and rapes her while forcing his best friend to watch. Guts tries to save her, costing him his left arm and right eye, but he fails. Just when all seems lost, Skull Knight arrives and saves them. Four days later, Guts awakens from being passed out from exhaustion and trauma, only to find the events of The Eclipse have driven Casca insane. Guts vows war upon demonkind to avenge his friends and Casca. The movie ends with Guts donning his iconic Black Swordsman getup, and going off to slay monsters.

Compared to the other movies, and especially The Battle for Doldrey, The Advent is much more subdued and less large in scope. The majority of the movie is spent with just the characters interacting with each other, as they come to grips with their horrible situation, and old bonds are both reforged and broken. This is easily the most emotional of the movies, and captures the human and tragic spirit of Berserk more than any other. Big thanks should go to the voice cast, who put in their best work yet. Everyone shows off impressive range, from anger, sadness, despair, happiness, the whole emotional spectrum. Jon Avner as Void, one of the members of the Godhand, is only in the film for a short while, but his appearance will leave an unforgettable impression. This is also has the best usage of music in the trilogy. Shiro Sagisu and Susumu Hirasawa once again deliver and then some, providing what I feel are some of the best musical tracks in any Berserk adaptation. The music ranges from epic, dark and grandiose for epic scenes like the horror of The Eclipse, to calm and understated during the film’s quiet moments. A perfect example is the love scene between Guts and Casca, with just a flute playing in the background.

It really is The Advent’s quiet scenes that where it truly shines for me. It’s these scenes that are the best done adaptation wise between it and the 90s anime. Casca lashing out at Guts for leaving the Hawks, thus inadvertently causing Griffith to act recklessly and cause the Hawks downfall, and Casca explaining to the Hawks that Griffith is crippled beyond repair and it will never get better for them, happens with absolutely no music playing at all. Now it’s not perfect, with some poorly handled CGI, but the voice acting, 2D, and sheer atmosphere of scenes like these that make them work so well.

Of course, how The Eclipse is handled needs to be touched on as well. It’s the most important event in the movie and in Berserk in general. It’s one of the most gory, tragic, bloody, nightmarish events I’ve ever seen in an anime or manga, and The Advent’s version of it is faithful in all ways imaginable. It is the bloodiest thing you will ever see. If you can’t handle intense gore and violence, then you shouldn’t even bother with this movie or series. One scene that is completely unique to the movie, and proves without a doubt proves the naysayers of the movies wrong in that these are bad adaptations, is Griffith’s metamorphosis into Femto. The animation style changes completely from the traditional into a painterly like style, meant to represent that Griffith is moving beyond the human plain and is becoming another being completely divorced from our senses. It’s surreal and genuinely creepy. Between this and the 1997 anime’s representation of The Eclipse, while the 97 anime follows events more closely to the events as they were drawn from the manga, The Advent better captures the violent and tragic nature of The Eclipse, and makes some new events that better serve its medium.

So what does The Advent do wrong? Well aside from the CGI still looking misplaced (though it is much better now and the focus is brought back to 2D animation), the romance between Guts and Casca doesn’t feel as strong as it did in the manga and 90s anime, due to the cuts made for time on scenes between the characters throughout the trilogy. One character moment between Guts and Casca that was left out that is especially disappointing. In the manga, after making love, Guts breaks down over being molested as a child, until Casca hugs him and says he can open his heart to her without shame. It’s one of the most emotional moments in the entire series, and this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that in the first movie a flashback is shown of Guts being raped as a child. It’s a genuinely wasted opportunity on the part of the creative team. It also ends on yet another cliffhanger. Now it’s an ending with much more resolution than the original anime’s was, but like the original anime, we’ll never see the rest since due to diminishing financial returns, the other planned movies were cancelled.

The Advent is easily the best film in the entire trilogy and any fan of Berserk should watch it. So as a whole, how does this trilogy fare? Well it was definitely flawed, with its cutting of completely perfect plot threads and overuse of CGI, especially in the first movie. Adapting such a monumental manga like Berserk was always going to be a challenge, and adapting it to movie theaters even more so due to the time constraints they were under. And yet, there is still more good than bad here. By the third film they clearly has gotten a hang of adapting the source material, and even in the first film you can see the spirit of Berserk in it. There was clearly a lot of love and heart put into these films, and it’s a genuine tragedy that we won’t get to see more of them, especially in light of the 2016 and 2017 Berserk anime adaptations. I haven’t watched them in full but I’ve seen an episode and… well let’s just say you’re better off first watching the movies and then reading the manga, and if you want another adaptation, watch the 1997 anime. Warts and all, these movies deserved better than just getting unceremoniously cancelled.

Well this retrospective was a lot of fun. It was really interesting to look at these movies both on their own terms, and as adaptations of Berserk. I hope that anyone reading enjoyed and that I managed to at least convince one person to both check out Berserk in general and the trilogy.